EU sets November review on Belarus

Associated Press

EU officials told Belarus on Tuesday to adopt more democratic and political reforms by November, if it wants closer ties and aid from the 27-nation bloc.

EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said the European Union would reassess its ties with the ex-Soviet republic then. She said the EU "could unlock the full potential" of closer ties, if "convincing and irreversible reforms" are undertaken by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.

Belarusian Foreign Minister Sergei Martynov, who met with EU officials Tuesday, said "both sides understand the need to work together and the wish to work together."

EU officials say they could ease visa travel restrictions, open new trade ties and offer much needed financial aid and loans, if Belarus continues its reforms.

The landlocked country in Eastern Europe is desperate for cash as the global financial crisis has drained its hard-currency reserves.

Belarus was once labeled Europe's last dictatorship by U.S. officials. However, Lukashenko, its authoritarian leader, has been on a drive to court better political and economic ties with the West.

In recent months, Lukashenko _ criticized in the West for silencing dissenting media and taking political prisoners _ has adopted liberal reforms that have resulted in the lifting of EU sanctions such as a travel ban for Belarusian officials.



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